Can Cruise Ship Doctors Be Sued for Medical Malpractice?

For decades, cruise ship passengers who sought medical attention onboard ship but believed they were the victim of medical malpractice had no legal recourse to seek civil justice. Until recently, cruise ships were immune from medical malpractice lawsuits. The most recent ruling upholding cruise ship immunity, known as Barbetta, made it practically impossible to hold doctors accountable for their actions on cruise ships. Courts said passengers should not expect the same level of medical care on a ship as on land, and ships’ doctors and nurses were private contractors beyond the cruise lines’ direct control.

However, a federal appeals court has ruled that such an exemption should not apply. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which has jurisdiction over the major Florida-based cruise lines — recently decided Barbetta is outdated law.

“We can discern no sound reason in law to carve out a special exemption for all acts of onboard medical negligence,” Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus wrote in the decision. “Much has changed in the quarter-century since Barbetta.”

If you suspect you or a loved one may have been the victim of medical malpractice while on a cruise ship, call us for a free consultation.